My friend, Taylor wrote an essay on sex ed.
Sex education in America is either very Christianized, very heteronormative or both. In the health classes that I took in middle and high school, I learned five things: One, how to label an anatomical diagram of a penis. Two, how to label an anatomical diagram of a vagina. Three, various types of birth control along with their costs, pros and cons. Four, various sexually transmitted infections and the ways they could make my life miserable or kill me. Five, the steps of how to put on a condom.
I’m not implying that any of this is bad information. It’s all important. However, being able to label the vas deferens in the male reproductive system and know how ovulation works does nothing to help teens navigate the turbulent processes of discovering one’s gender identity and sexuality. Nor does it help teens develop healthy relationships and learn about consent. Health and sex education needs to be updated, moving away from a completely insufficient model of just preaching abstinence (because real talk, many teens are still going to have sex even if, and sometimes especially if, you tell them they shouldn’t) or slightly better one of teaching teens about the science of heterosexual sex.
Improved health and sex education has the potential to give queer and nonbinary teens the vocabulary they need to describe their feelings. If queer and nonbinary teens are “confused,” it is only because the adults in their lives have failed to provide them with the terminology and information that would make their feelings make more sense to them and others. Improving health and sex education to encompass a discussion of queer sexualities and identities (LGBTQPIA+) would be a step forward towards normalizing their experiences in a society that is currently predominantly heteronormative. Teaching teens more about consent and healthy relationships would also give teens the tools to prevent and stop dating violence, sexual assault and unhealthy relationships. To be upstanders instead of bystanders.
I listed the five things I learned in health or sex ed every year when I was in school. Here are the five things I wish I learned: One, definitions of the various queer sexualities. Two, how to talk about sexuality and support people who identify as LGBTQPIA+. Three, the split attraction model of sexual, sensual, romantic, platonic and aesthetic attraction. Four, transgender and nonbinary gender identities and how to be a good ally to people who identify as such. Five, how to identify unhealthy relationships and methods of ensuring that there is consent in a relationship.
If we are ever going to stop hate towards the LGBTQPIA+ community, it has to be through education. One way to do so is to start thinking about how inclusivity and nonheteronormativity can be added into existing health and sex education curriculums. Teaching people how to have empathy towards their queer and nonbinary peers will go much further in the long run than them labeling a penis and vagina every year.